Six Leadership Lessons I Learned From Running A Marathon

In an article that featured today on the Irish Management Institute’s blog and previously in The Sunday Business Post, Billy shares what he has learned about leadership from running marathons.

Billy ran his first Dublin Marathon in 2013, and has since competed in London, Chicago, New York, Berlin and Paris to name a few! He has learned some lessons that translate into his work with business leaders and gives us his six top tips below:

1. A big goal provides direction and purpose. Big goals are needed in order to provide direction and purpose. In this respect, a big goal acts as a compass. It helps provide an answer to question “is what I’m doing moving me towards or away from my overall goal?” A big goal also provides meaning and purpose. It’s something to work towards, little by little, step by step.

2. Small goals are what get things done. Real motivation requires on-going feedback and intermediate goals. There’s little point in just setting a performance goal at the beginning of the year and then expecting miracles. There must be a sense of achievement and progress along the way. Intermediate goals also provide feedback on how you are doing.

3. Fail early and learn early. As a leader, it’s important to acknowledge that there will be setbacks, particularly in the early stages of projects. The first question you ask must be “what can we learn from this?” Lessons learned early on in a project will help you to avoid bigger problems later on.

4. Feedback is oxygen. Runners typically do some training alone. However, those who are striving for improved performance usually have a training partner who pushes them to do better. By pushing each other, both achieve greater levels of performance. This is important for leaders too. While leaders need to be independent and resilient, having peer support is vital.

5. Be uncomfortable. Working at the edge drives your performance and continually increases the size of your comfort zone. The inverse is also true: spending too much time in your comfort zone causes it to shrink and negatively impacts performance.

6. Recovery and self-renewal is as important as activity. Marathon runners don’t train flat out every day and have rest days and recovery built into their training schedule. Unfortunately, in business, this is generally not the case. Recovery and renewal are often ignored, despite the fact that the research shows overwhelmingly that working long hours on a continuous basis reduces overall effectiveness.

Running a marathon isn’t on everyone’s bucket list. However, if you are in a leadership role, then you are (metaphorically) training for a marathon every day you turn up for work.